When you look at industrial as a genre, I don’t think it has an equal in terms of just how broad, vague and elusive it can be. On the one hand, the sounds pertaining to industrial are tangible, distinct, and inimitable; on the other hand, the genre has fragmented and infected so many other styles of music over the years, it gets to the point now where you wonder what prerequisites are required to even make an “authentic” industrial record anymore – if there is such a thing. I recently gave Skinny Puppy’s magnum opus Last Rights a spin; the jam had such a lasting felicity, it made me want to go through some of my favourite industrial albums again. After all, as some of you may well know, the genre is somewhat of a staple of mine, albeit one I tend to overlook these days – which is a shame, because in recent years, incidental or otherwise, industrial has been getting a resurgence that’s creeping back into the stratosphere (mainstream or otherwise) again. Bands and artists from all walks of life are implementing industrial’s cold, sterile drum snaps and dystopian electronic backdrops into their own styles of music – styles of music as far-reaching as pop, or the deepest crevasses of metal’s underbelly. So, if you’re new to this genre and you want some of my essential recommendations (for whatever they’re worth), grab a coffee and dive into the disparate world of industrial with the Doctor.
Throbbing Gristle – The Second Annual Report (1977)
It’s up for debate, but Throbbing Gristle’s debut album is considered to be the birth of the industrial genre. As such, it seems somewhat appropriate to start the list off here. This album should come with a disclaimer: because of how explicit and irreverent The Second Annual Report is, it won’t be for everybody. Released in the same year as Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Throbbing Gristle had the controversial limelight taken away from them due to Sex Pistols’, I suspect, gaudy, impertinent attitude and ugly image. And yet, compare Never Mind the Bollocks… with today’s standards and Sex Pistols’ debut feels somewhat flat and juvenile in comparison; stack The Second Annual Report up with today’s climate however, and it’s just as repugnant, disturbing, and disgusting as I imagine it would have been for someone listening to it forty-five years ago. It’s hard to really pinpoint where the horror starts and stops with this LP – the whole record seems to emit a misanthropic disposition from the very beginning. It’s the groundwork for the album, and the songwriting and compositional decisions bring these themes of horror to life, but this level of inaccessibility indefinitely makes up the framework for industrial’s ugly and antisocial tropes for future generations.
Sounds like: A minimalistic experimental nightmare, using minacious electronic soundscapes that scuttle and creep around before subtly imbedding themselves into your subconscious, so they can give you bad dreams for the rest of your life.
Marilyn Manson – Antichrist Superstar (1996)
Manson has always utilised industrial elements for his albums, but Antichrist Superstar feels more in line with the traditional representation of the industrial [metal] sound. Antichrist Superstar is a surprisingly deep experience that deserves a handful of attentive listens before giving out a final verdict. It’s a dour journey filled with very little melody, outside of the first third of the record. The end result is one not too dissimilar to Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral (which isn’t too hard to imagine, since Trent Reznor produced Antichrist Superstar), in that it descends into madness the further you go down the rabbit hole. It’s not the most refined chapter in Manson’s discography, but that’s what makes it so different and engaging from the rest of his discography.
Sounds like: Broiling dissonance, using abrasive industrial metal elements with a punk-like execution, via rough takes and simple compositions that emit incalculable amounts of energy.
Fractured – Only Human Remains (2005)
Firstly, this Canadian-based band is depressingly underappreciated and largely forgotten about, bar the enthusiastic elite that keep the torch burning. They were never quite able to reach the apex of their potential like they should have, or indeed able to garner the crowds that were justly deserved of Fractured’s talents. It’s a damn shame honestly, since Only Human Remains is an incredible artistic achievement. Clocking in at just under one hour, the record gives the listener a truly unique experience that melds EBM and industrial with a peculiar handling and expertise. It juxtaposes serene beauty with an underbelly of grotesque decay, with each track serving up a multifaceted puzzle that puts you in the thick of it. Only Human Remains creates a lugubrious and cold world filled with broken pockets of light, and its idiosyncratic methods warrant barrel loads of adulation.
Sounds like: Only Human Remains is a cross between moody, crunchy industrial thuds and body-shaking EBM, with the final product being executed in an almost soundtrack-esque, narrative-driven way. Really unique stuff.
HEALTH – Vol.4 :: Slaves of Fear (2019)
The L.A. noise-rock outfit created a true watershed moment with their fourth full-length album Vol.4 :: Slaves of Fear, back in 2019. Showing no signs of moving onto the industrial battleground prior to this album, Vol.4 :: Slaves of Fear is an incredibly versatile offering that uses big industrial electronics, whilst staying true to the band’s core selling points. Make no mistake; the band might be better known for their structureless noise rock, but Vol.4 :: Slaves of Fear whole-heartedly embraces the genre’s dystopian electronics and melds them with chugging metal guitars in a way that feels completely organic to everything they’d worked towards up to that point. The album hears Jake’s benign vocals delicately layered on top of a landmass of metallic, war-ravaged wreckage, and the results are simply genius.
Sounds like: Vol.4 :: Slaves of Fear sounds like an A-bomb hitting the ground, with a musician riding on the back of it singing the most beautiful melodies before dissolving into the blast.
Kanga – You and I Will Never Die (2021)
Kanga carries the proverbial industrial torch into the contemporary era, using some of industrial’s most glorious tropes to create something distinctly hers. Like Vol.4 :: Slaves of Fear, it’s not necessarily a traditional industrial experience, but as we are seeing in recent years, it’s the type of album that certainly has the genre at its framework so it can introduce other elements to spice things up. This is because, generally speaking, industrial sounds extremely detached and oppressive; thus, Kanga uses her gorgeous vocals to colligate these two opposing things together. Ultimately, You and I Will Never Die is a very accessible and enjoyable record when compared to most trad-industrial records, so this may well be a good starting point for those seeking to get into the sound.
Sounds like: A well-balanced amalgamation of synthwave, pop, and NIN-styled industrial.
3TEETH – Shutdown.exe (2017)
3TEETH have always held an overt reverence for the industrial pantheon. I’ve always respected their clear inspirations – in spite of those inspirations being a double-edged sword at times – and their love for the genre. Shutdown.exe, thus far, is the band’s best album. It’s a hard-hitting industrial record that displays all of the great qualities the genre has to offer music lovers, but it’s also the only album so far to show real ambition. Shutdown.exe has all of the hallmarks of a great industrial album, but at times it can be one of the heaviest albums of the ‘10s, having one of the most face-melting album openers ever devised by man. In short; it’s an ambitious project that brings as much metal to the table as it does industrial, and the results are pretty unique at times.
Sounds like: A cauldron filled with Rob Zombie, Frontline Assembly, and Ministry, as well as a small, much-needed, injection of their own identity.
Ministry – Psalm 69 (1992)
I’ll be honest in saying, I’m not the biggest Ministry fan out there. Psalm 69 is what I’d call their anomaly album, albeit a really seminal piece of work that blends industrial and thrash in a way that doesn’t work out as well for their proceeding efforts. Out of all the albums on this list, Psalm 69 is one of the most influential in terms of its colossal impact, and how it changed the environment after its release. It’s easy to see Psalm 69 as being a true benchmark record, allowing bands like Rammstein to build upon the framework this album helped design.
Sounds like: Psalm 69 is thrash-meets-industrial, and is responsible for numerous household names like Fear Factory and Rammstein reaching for the stars with their classic records shortly after Psalm 69’s release. It’s fast, it’s despondent, and it deserves your attention.
Combichrist – This is Where Death Begins (2016)
This pick is shrouded in contention and might well cause some of you to strip me of what little credibility I ever had. However, this album will be six years old in 2022, yet it still has the same allure it had when I first heard and reviewed it all those years ago. Combichrist is an established electronic brand, better known for crafting fantastic EBM, power noise, and techno songs. This is Where Death Begins, however, gave the status quo a shake-up and went all in as an industrial metal album. The thing is, as an industrial metal album it works. This is Where Death Begins is heavy, catchy, and resides closer to a Marilyn Manson album from the early ’00s than a grimy underground dance record its hardcore fanbase were yearning for. It still has plenty of Combichrist’s electronic experimentation in there, it’s just that This is Where Death Begins focuses more on concise industrial metal boppers with commercial viability in mind than anything Andy was known for in the past.
Sounds like: Generic industrial metal with Combichrist’s personality in it, bringing these industrial derivatives to life in a different way.
Freakangel – Let It All End (2012)
Let It All End is a good, solid electronic album that integrates industrial and EBM with death metal in a way that’s deeply gratifying. It’s a pretty incisive album that has very little fat on it, making it easy to go back to. It might not have the importance of Psalm 69 or The Second Annual Report, but as its own thing Let It All End executes its ideas very competently.
Sounds like: A cross between early Marilyn Manson and Psyclon Nine, with an EBM backdrop.
Eisbrecher – Schock (2015)
It’s so hard listening to a German industrial metal band and not being reminded of how most bands of this style sound like Rammstein. Thankfully for Eisbrecher, they manage to overcome this, frankly, insulting comparison. That’s because they manage to integrate a lot of their own identity into their industrial metal music. All of their albums are solid, but Schock is just a very wholesome, well-rounded album filled with big choruses and tight compositions.
Sounds like: Rammstein, but with a lot of juicy melodies to sink your teeth into, and some really interesting songwriting ideas that distinguish it from its peers.
Rammstein – Reise, Reise (2004)
Picking a favourite Rammstein album is like picking a favourite child for me. They’ve never made a bad album hitherto, and every one of their albums brings a new and exciting sound to the table. Reise, Reise is what I’d call their most refined work to date. It takes Mutter’s incredible template and gives it punctilious, minute alterations to deliver the most near-perfect experience of their career. This album is filled with cover-to-cover bangers that represent the essence of the band. Similarly, they created one of the best industrial metal albums for the new millennium. While their earlier works stick close to the industrial ethos, Mutter and onwards focuses on accessibility and all the hooks and melodies that go with it. As such, maybe Sehnsucht is deservedly meant to be on this list for its more reliable fidelity to the genre, but the crisp perfection of Reise, Reise can’t be overlooked, and neither can its importance to industrial metal.
Sounds like: The quintessential industrial metal sound.
Skinny Puppy – Last Rights (1992)
Last Rights hates you as much as the band hated making it. To make a succinct remark on this album would be to say it’s a kernel of chaos and hatred – the critical traits of a trad-industrial album. Last Rights subverts expectations to quite a degree; starting off with a string of traditional Skinny Puppy tunes (which are incredible by the way), the album slowly decays and spirals into utter madness. Skinny Puppy are a really important band who helped push the genre into great places, and with that, it’s challenging to pick an album to better suit this list, but the album’s daring lust for adventure is matched by nothing else. The album’s like an audible allegory for the broken communication within the band at the time of writing, which would evidently go on to break up the band for a spell after its release. If you’ve got the minerals to stick this one out, its rewards will have been worth it. If you want streamlined Skinny Puppy in their prime, check out their 1990 classic, Too Dark Park instead. Either way, you’ll be getting some of the best industrial music out there.
Sounds like: You’re in a mechanical hell.
Dawn of Ashes – The Antinomian (2020)
A contemporary near-masterpiece that caught me by surprise at the time of its release. Dawn of Ashes’ interpretation of the genre resides in it lending black metal influence – the results of which are surprisingly effective. Though Psyclon Nine does something similar, and a tiny bit better, The Antinomian feels very modern in practice. It doesn’t have the flabby baggage a lot of industrial albums have, telling what it needs to with methodical precision, and the album overall can be downright brutal at times.
Sounds like: A pithy version of Suicide Commando with black metal influences.
Godflesh – Streetcleaner (1989)
The big one. Is there anything more iconic and pioneering than Justin Broadrick’s vocal style? Like Psalm 69, its influence is immense. The UK-based Brummie duo entered the smog-filled arena with their very respectable self-titled EP in 1988, but would go on to decimate the competition with their 1989 debut masterpiece, Streetcleaner. If Throbbing Gristle is penned for formulating the electronic industrial style, Godflesh are regarded as the founding fathers of its mutated variant: industrial metal. Look at it this way: no Godflesh, no NIN etc, etc… They are that important. As an album, while their last album, Post Self comes damn close to this album’s perfection, Streetcleaner is still unprecedented in so many ways. Its sound cannot be match, and Broadrick’s one-worded barks are iconic. This is far from easy listening, but regardless, everyone needs to experience its oppressive hypnosis at least once.
Sounds like: You’re in a factory with bombs going off in the background.
Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe (1998)
To leave White Zombie at the peak of their popularity to start a solo career, to many, was a fool’s errand. Yet here we are, with Rob Zombie coming out of the gates in 1998 with his barnstorming classic debut LP. It’s a moot point that any of his albums after this are worth a damn, but it’s hard for many to contest Hellbilly Deluxe as being anything other than great or, at the very least, fun. Filled with all of his signature Creature Feature soundbites, the album is chock-full of tight, hook-infested industrial metal bangers that made him the household name he is today. In fact, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic of me to say it was a game changer in terms of what it offered the genre. It not only put industrial metal into the mainstream consciousness, it helped promote Zombie’s real passion: old horror movies. That’s what gave Rob Zombie the distinction he needed from his peers; that blend of horror aesthetics with pop-laced industrial metal. A marriage made in heaven. Basically, if you don’t like “Dragula”, you don’t have a soul.
Sounds like: A love letter to industrial metal and archaic horror movies.
Nine Inch Nails – Downward Spiral (1994)
I think one of the biggest drawing points to NIN’s music around this time, was the fact Reznor poured every ounce of his being into his projects. Downward Spiral is the purest form of this – a record that oozes his own self-loathing, hatred, lust, and addictions. Its pacing is pitch perfect, the structure and narrative to Downward Spiral is spellbinding and engrossing. Ironically, when I was getting more into music, this was my introduction to NIN – having had the band pushed in my face, and this album incidentally, at every given turn – and I hated it. This is not an easy listen by any stretch of the imagination, so its adulation left me somewhat perplexed at the time. However, with perseverance, you’ll come to understand Downward Spiral’s greatness if you’re more inclined to hearing more accessible music. Its intricate, sprawling tale will leave you perturbed, aghast, and intrigued, and that’s the whole point. I will give this album one criticism though: Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” is better.
Sounds like: The internal struggles of Trent Reznor.
Black Light Burns – Cruel Melody (2007)
Far from being my favourite BLB album, but it’s the one that leaned heavily on industrial metal, thus the results leave it sitting on this list. Similar to Rob Zombie, Rammstein, and Combichrist, there’s an effortlessness to enjoying these types of records. Wes Borland being known as the Riff Lord, you can bet your ass there are mountains of big riffs to be enjoyed here, however, Borland’s vocals and ear for great melodies make it an utter joy to sit through as well.
Sounds like: Latter day NIN with massive riffs.
Psyclon Nine – [Order of the Shadow: Act I] (2013)
I remember hearing this for the first time and being totally blown away by its menacing sound. Never had I heard such a combination of sounds coming together like [Order of the Shadow: Act I] had achieved. The album had that Marilyn Manson The Golden Age of Grotesque aesthetic to it, but Nero’s Dani Filth-styled vocals created a truly unique and punishing experience. These tracks are so dense and multi-layered – so many things going on in them – it opened up boatloads of potential for revisits. And revisited I have, many times. The record’s brutal precision is matched only by Nero’s incredible talent for world-building. There’s a palpable oppression present throughout [Order of the Shadow Act I]’s entirety, and the results are still as sharp now as they were then.
Sounds like: A flawless fever dream, filled with garish, nightmarish monsters.
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss (2015)
Industrial is hardly the focal point of Abyss, but while its influences are small in the conventional sense, the album’s awareness for despair and futility are core characteristics for the genre. Abyss is a compilation of many styles, such as doom, darkwave, folk, and goth, but, as this list has pointed out over its course, it cherry-picks the best parts from the genre in question. Things like the drums on “Carrion Flowers” with their robotic simplicity and icy, effects-laced symbol hisses, or the dejected ambience and electronics that saturate the album’s tracks. There’s plenty here that makes the distinction a pertinent one. Regardless, this is a truly dark journey that is still my favourite Wolfe album to date.
Sounds like: Literally sounds like the cover conveys – Chelsea floating in the abyss.
Front Line Assembly – Tactical Neural Implant (1992)
Front Line Assembly can be hit and miss at times; the band have a tendency to stretch their tracks out to needless, detrimental lengths. However, when the band get it right, they sound like nothing else. Tactical Neural Implant is one of those occasions. Leaning more towards melody on this 1992 album, the LP brings a distinct flair to the table, music that serves up all of that juicy EBM energy and plonks it front and centre. Surprisingly, Tactical Neural Implant doesn’t sound all that bleak when compared to the band’s other works – the album rides on a pretty vibrant tone, making it a good place to start if you’re looking to get into these industrial titans’ albums.
Sounds like: You’re on a futuristic alien planet.
So, there we have it. In no particular order, these are some of my favourite albums from the genre. I kept the list to one album per band, and tried to highlight a couple of the less appreciated artists out there, in an attempt to bring their great work to potential new fans. If people enjoyed this list, I might do another addition with even more obscure numbers.
– Simon K.